Ringrose stands tall in defeat for Blues
Montpellier 22 Leinster 16
Nemani Nadolo was the man of the match, Isa Nacewa the Leinster saviour but on a tumultuous afternoon in Montpellier it was Garry Ringrose who stood tall and became a leading figure for his team.
There have been strong performances and moments of magic from the 21-year-old in the year or so since he earned a starting place for his province, but this was a complete performance in adverse conditions as he dragged his side back from the brink to secure what could prove a crucial losing bonus point.
An error-strewn hour had threatened to undermine the three-time winners' good start against Castres and when Nadolo scored his team's third try things looked bleak.
Johnny Sexton and Sean O'Brien had been withdrawn at half-time, Rob Kearney was in the sin-bin for eight more minutes and they had endured 60 minutes of heavy collisions and set-piece slog.
Damage limitation appeared their best option as they stared down the barrel of a heavy loss that would hand five points to their opponents.
Instead, they left with a three-point deficit after Nacewa's last-gasp effort that owed much to a strong Dan Leavy charge, Joey Carbery's decision-making and a sublime Jamison Gibson-Park pass.
Cleverly, the skipper stole as much yardage as he could for his conversion and he nailed the kick to keep Leinster on top of Pool 4.
"It's massive character, look at what Garry Ringrose did in the last 20 minutes. The impact and spark he brought to get forward momentum. Dan Leavy was sensational off the bench," Nacewa said afterwards.
"We've got belief in our squad, belief that guys will come on and do the job. It's a tough ask coming back from that against a good side like Montpellier but we'll take the positives out of the last 20 minutes and build on that.
"Especially away from home and in France it's a tough thing to do.
"Joey Carbery really managed that 20 minutes really well and you've got to help your forwards out on a heavy pitch like that. There's a bit of belief in our squad, the guys came out and executed when we needed to. We just didn't do it for the rest of the match."
Before the bench came in to spark a late revival, Leinster's old guard were responsible for a poor display.
The decision to start Sexton who has been suffering with his hamstring was undermined by Nacewa taking over the kicking duties.
The Ireland star practised in the warm-up, but when the first chance came it was the former Fiji international who stepped forward.
With the game against the All Blacks now just 12 days away, the condition of Sexton's hamstring becomes a national issue and Cullen suggested the international management played a role in the call to remove him.
Either way, the out-half wasn't happy, nor was O'Brien even though it was his first senior appearance since February.
"The two of them came through and they were p***ed off coming off at half-time because we made the call," he said. "We just made the call. It wasn't pre-ordained beforehand. We had discussions just as the first half ... even before the game.
"The pitch was heavy. If he cools down is he more at risk? We were just discussing. He came through fine, it is 40 minutes under the belt leading into what is ahead for those guys because there is always knock-on consequences. We are always cautious. We'll get everybody assessed as normal. He came through well and no one likes coming off. We are not trying to be secretive in any way."
Behind closed doors, one ventures Leinster would have taken six points from their opening two fixtures but Cullen was unhappy with the haul as he and his side returned to Dublin last night.
"Not really. We came here to win the game and we're disappointed we didn't," he said when asked if it was a good day's work. "Time will tell. It doesn't mean much if we go out and lose our next two games."
Leinster, who came on to the field wearing red jerseys with the No 8 on the back as a tribute to Anthony Foley, will take stock of this performance and heart from their second-half resurgence.
The first 60 minutes will make for pretty grim reviewing for a number of senior players whose errors and ill-discipline cost them dear.
They knew Montpellier would try and wear them down at the set-piece and get their big ball-carriers going and at times they struggled to cope as Pierre Spies and Nemani Nadolo made big gains, forcing the visitors to miss a quarter of their tackles.
But it was Leinster's own errors that cost them dear.
Leading 3-0 through a Nacewa kick, Cian Healy knocked on and Vincent Martin pounced to score his side's first try and, when calm was needed in the moments that followed, Sexton skewed a penalty and Jamie Heaslip repeated an earlier penalty concession at the maul.
The French side went wide to their giant winger Nadolo and the Fijian ran over Rob Kearney and Luke McGrath to score.
After the break, the Ireland full-back was harshly sin-binned by referee Luke Pearce for an obstruction on Joffrey Michel.
Frans Steyn went to the corner where Leinster repelled the maul and won a scrum, only for Heaslip to pick from the base and throw an intercept pass to Nadolo who happily touched down.
At 22-6, things looked bleak but Nacewa narrowed the gap and Ringrose just kept carrying the fight to the tiring home defenders.
Leavy almost scored, only for Nadolo to pick him up and drive him backwards but a Steyn knock-on gave them one last opportunity.
Again, the former St Michael's flanker made an impact and the phases followed. Gibson-Park delivered a peach of a pass to Nacewa who scored and then held his nerve from the tee.
Although his coach was unhappy with the overall perspective, the captain was pleased with late rally.
"A win for us when you're that far down against that side to get a losing bonus point and there was a few down guys afterwards in the dressing-room, but you've got to remember that we do say every point counts and fingers crossed that helps us at the end," he said.
MONTPELLIER - J Michel (J Mogg 66); M O'Connor, V Martin, A Dumoulin, N Nadolo; F Steyn, N White (T O'Leary 74); Y Watremez (M Nariashvili 50), S Mamukashvili (R Ruffenach ), Jannie du Plessis (D Kubriashvili 50); Jacques du Plessis, P Willemse; F Ouedraogo, A Qera (Capt) (W Liebenberg 66), P Spies (N van Rensburg 66).
LEINSTER - R Kearney; Z Kirchner, R Henshaw, G Ringrose, I Nacewa; J Sexton (J Carbery h-t), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 64); C Healy (J McGrath 48), J Tracy (S Cronin 48), M Ross (M Bent 61); D Toner, M Kearney (I Nagle 44); S O'Brien (J Murphy h-t), J van der Flier, J Heaslip.
Ref - L Pearce
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